© David J. Spangenberg
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I look all around the country and I see so many Musical Artists & Bands looking for places to play, hoping for as large an audience as possible, wanting to be heard, wanting to gain new fans, wanting to earn a living doing what they love to do - which is: Creating and Playing their Music.
Naturally, they are going to go where they can be hired, which most of the time consists of different Bars, Clubs and other drinking establishments...
Well, in theory, this should work pretty well; the Artist has places to gather and nurture fans, and they're doing what they love to do - play Music. But, as I'm sure most of you have found out, this rarely works very well, unless you're in a "Covers" Band...
Why? The 1st of a couple main reasons is actually very simple when you really look at it...
I remember quite well my pre-teen and teenage years, when I was a potential Music fan like anyone else of my generation, and therefore I was introduced to, and developed a taste for Music, and the Artists of that time who delivered it.
This Music seriously affected me in one way or another in these formidable years. Music, and the Artists who presented and represented this new music to me, appeared as one entity. And this entity, and the other influences at that time of my life really affected me and became a major part of my life during this ever-important time of my life. A time when I, this young, growing person, became ME.
That was MY Generation, but you and every other generation living and growing socially and otherwise through these same important preteen and teenage years, accumulated your own tastes, including whom you are or were influenced by, etc. You, like me, and everyone else, are attracted to certain kinds of music and the lifestyle associated with it, and you create, and start putting together your tastes which you associate with this very important part of your life. Your social, and therefore your musical life, are formulated together - by Music, and the Musical Acts that brought this Music to you...
So, let's look at the situation and do some simple math:
On one side we have: Unsigned Acts who are usually forced to play where they can, most often in Clubs, Bars, what have you. Clubs, in most localities, require your potential fans to be ages 21 and above where liquor is served. And, of course, the establishments want/expect you to draw lots of fans, to drink up and make them money.
The problem is, that in these types of places, most of your potential fans, being over the age of 21, are already pretty set in their tastes. They want cover-bands and songs from their generation, or they go to arena-type concerts where the "Stars" whom they associate with these songs that made up these important years, perform.
Now, on the other side we have: Those potential fans under the age of 21 who are stuck listening to what ever is programmed into their head for them to hear, usually coming from the Major Labels, or their Subsidiaries. Too many of these younger people have no idea what they are missing because they are not given the opportunity to see and hear some great local unsigned acts that they could discover and call their own, because they can't see these Artists and hear their Music - because they're not allowed in the door!
Yes, there is, of course, a seemingly obvious answer to this problem. But all-ages shows have their own issues, and only partly solve the overall situation even when these type gigs are available... The real answers run much deeper...
The 2nd main reason it's hard to draw new fans revolves around the word "Perception". Perception includes, in part, the Artist's perception or view of their "job", and how it affects the potential fans perception of the "Unsigned Artists Scene".
Now, please understand, the problem of perception and the answers to this problem do not lie totally on the Artist's shoulders, but also fall on the Artists' Managers, Venues, Promoters and Fans, which I will also cover later and throughout...
It should also be made clear here, that Artists should still care about attracting both the over 21 crowd as well as the younger potential fans. For everyone, even those over 21, there is still the need to discover something new and different, something "to do" that people will know will at least be a lot of fun; an escape.
And one main perception problem I see with Artists is one that most do not think of, or have a very narrow slant on:
"The Big Picture".
Too many Artists believe their job is to just write and learn songs, practice them, go out and sing and play them.
An Artist's actual performance aim should be to entertain people, to help people escape from reality, that is, to help them forget about their busy and/or crazy and/or problematic and/or boring life, to grab them and take them with the Artist on a mini-vacation - that both the Artists and the Fans will remember even after they leave the show...
So, I have the following questions for you Artists:
1. "Why should your potential fans really want to come to your shows - even if they knew you existed?"
2. "When they DO get to see you, what will make them not only want to see you again, but also want to buy your CDs and Merchandise?" And...
3. "Will they love you so much that they will want to tell others, via texts, print, internet or however, "You Gotta See This Band!"?
And, there's NOTHING like Word-of-mouth!
Yes, what are YOU, the Musical Artist/Group/Band, offering them that's special and really stands out? What is so unique about you that will grab their attention and keep them as fans.
Well folks, with the advent of all this computer and networking technology, you're not only competing with a ton of other Artists, you're also competing with quite a few other forms of diversions, entertainment and escapism, like Video Games and countless others.
Now, let's not forget, there's always the basics, because as they say, "You can't polish shit...." You obviously have to be talented as Songwriters and Artists...
But when you practice, what else are you doing besides learning songs? Whether you know it or not, you are developing [hopefully] your own "Sound". A Sound that [hopefully] makes you sound like YOU, and no one else. That when you hear the first 15 seconds of a Performance, you are not just grabbed in, but they also know who you are!
Your Sound makes up one integral part of your overall "Image". And, your image is a major point to consider and develop, especially nowadays. Your image could be described as: What you play, the way you play it, the way you "come across" to people, and the way you look.
Therefore, although during practice music is usually the main area of concentration, there are other just as important considerations that most Musicians don't think about. For example, does your Group look "wasted", dead, or very much alive? What does your equipment look and sound like? What kind of relationship do you wish to develop with your audience? Are you just Singing and Playing - or Performing, communicating with your audience and drawing them in to you?
Simply put, what will affect your potential fans perception of you? Where once they know you exist they will talk about you to no end...
But there's one more very important Perception Factor that must be overcome that is necessary to draw your potential fans out of the closet, so that you actually have the chance to give them a chance to get to know and love you...
Now, "Promotion" is the most obvious step that comes next in most people's minds. Artists promoting themselves, telling their fans and potential fans that they're playing at this venue or that venue.
But my question to you is, "What is it you're actually promoting?" That is, when you're promoting yourself, what will be your potential fans perception [what they think] of what you're promoting? Will you just be one more "amateur artist" playing somewhere?
Let's step back to that "Big Picture" we discussed earlier and take it a few steps further. What is the perception that your still-in-the-closet-potential-fans will be expecting that will make them want to come out to see you?
Well, we're playing at so & so's club or bar or venue." In other words, "Come out to our gig".
Let's face reality, if people have never heard of you, why should they come out to see you? What are you offering them that a thousand other unknowns can't [or don't] offer? If you perceive your appearance as "just a gig", what do you expect your potential audience to see it as!
It's useless spending lots of time, energy and money promoting something if people's preconceived perception will be, "Oh, why should I go there, never heard of them, no one's talking about them, so they must be boring, a waste of time - forget it."
My point: When you go out to see a favorite star performer in the big arenas, are you going to their "gig"? Or, are you going to, what is perceived to be a "Can't-Miss EVENT???
Now, it is up to the Artist, for one, to make it appear as one! And to appear as one, it should BE one! And it CAN be one, WHEN the Artists perceive it as one!
Every performance at every venue should be thought of, and looked at as an EVENT, a SHOW, a SPECIAL OCCASION, an EXPERIENCE, an important reason for people to leave their house, put gas in their car, pay the cover charge, etc., and come see you.
You must start thinking of your performances as if you were performing at a scaled down arena show. You have to take those "extra steps" ensuring people that your performance and your "show" are special, and that you're not just another band getting up in front of a microphone and playing and singing. Lots of people can get up there and sing and play, but most of those Artists will get nowhere in today's Music Scene.
Unless you've been in a cave over the last few years, you've noticed that this is a Visual Society, inundated with multimedia that is competing with your band - and people often don't have to leave their houses anymore to be entertained.
"Hey man, I'm a serious Artist. I'm not selling out for no one!". Hey man, yourself, I'm not asking you to give up any integrity! I'm just asking you to come ALIVE! I'm not asking you to be anyone but yourself. I'm just asking you to look at this performance as a fun and rewarding event. And if you don't see it as one, how do you expect anyone else to think it's one?
All you need to do is wake up, make a slight attitude adjustment, and take whatever extra steps that you can conceive of and can afford that fits your image and makes your show stand out.
Now, it is not up to just the Artists to make your shows stand out...
Hey, Artists' Managers, street teams, representatives of every sort: What are YOU doing to help? Are you looking at each performance as a special one, and are you being just as creative on the biz and promotion end as your artists are on their music end? And are you making sure the Venues are on the ball?
Hey, Venues & Promoters: What are YOU doing to make people's perception be that you're the "In Place" to go to be entertained? And, are you being just as creative on the biz and promotion and public relation's end as the Artists are [or should be] on their music end?
To sum it up, the Artists, Managers, Promoters and Venues must work together to create this perception: an event that people will be coming to that will be extra special!
But we're wasting a lot of time here unless everyone involved understands and takes the steps to ensure that everyone's perception doesn't become just another let-down. You can't, and shouldn't even try to fool your audience. You actually have to make this event be not just another event, but an event to be remembered! And, you CAN!
The Day has come. The Artists/Bands, Promoters, Venues are all ready to stage an EVENT. An EVENT people will talk about - a "Night to Remember."
"So, I guess we really need a 'Gimmick'..." NO! Gimmicks are basically useless because people can see right through them, and they are needless as well. "Gimmicks" are looked at as Gimmicks; "Great shows" are looked at as Great Shows!
It is true that, just like all songs need great "hooks", your show can have a hook, but it should be a natural hook. Some examples being a CD release party, a guest performer, someone's birthday party, and the like - and there's no harm in coming up with one each show.
One of Professor Pooch's Laws: "Be Just as Creative on the Business Side as You or the Artist is on the Creative side" fits here. My favorite hook? Three or four Great Bands with Great Songs and Great Performances!
Your Gimmick should simply be providing a Great Event with Great Performances. Simply put, you need Artists and Venues that create a Great, Natural Vibe that hypnotizes the audience into wanting to come back to that Venue and/or to see that Band!
Every Night, every Gig should be treated as Special. And if Everyone is in a great state of mind, and if Everyone is prepared, and if Everyone gives their all, your Events will be remembered - and in a positive way.
What the Artists, their representatives and the venues are [or should be] trying to create is "word-of-mouth", because excited word-of-mouth travels faster and better, and with more integrity, than any other form of promoting yourself to the masses. You are directing it to the people who matter - the fans who like you, who know people who will like you and what you bring into their lives...
Now, let's break it down into roles:
Attention Artists [and Artist Managers]: Go out and see one or more of your favorite, successful Recording and Performance Artists and watch their show very carefully. A Great, Successful Band knows their songs are Great Songs, and the right songs to play at that Venue/Event, and the songs flow really well together.
Why/How do they know? Simply put, a Great Band is prepared and takes care of all that beforehand, usually at rehearsals. The only thing on a Great Performer's mind when they step on that stage is, "This is gonna be a Great Show!" And they Make it one!
In short, Every Performance at Every Venue should be treated as a Special Event! Great Events must become a Habit!
Here's a true story - and an important lesson:
I was out to see an unsigned Band at this Club several years ago, and I met a friend there. It was early in the night and we were the only two customers.
To make a long story, short, the band played a basically disinterested set. After my friend left I went up to them and asked them, "Hey, You guys are much better than that - what happened?" They responded with "We were warming up and there were only a couple people there, so..."
And I told them, "Well, you just blew a great opportunity - that person who just left was a Senior Vice President of Columbia Records!"
Actually, it doesn't matter if my friend was Joe Shmoe. If the Artist had put on a great performance, Shmoe might've loved the band and gone out and told others. And never forget that the Bartenders and Waitresses are people, too! People who love music! People who might spread the word! Great Performances must become Habit Forming, and nothing else is acceptable!
Are you ready and prepared to deliver a Great Show? Were you ready early in the day, or did you wait until the last minute to get everything together? Nothing like that rushed feeling for setting you up for a rotten mood. Be prepared early so that you're relaxed and ready to give it your all!
How tight is your set? Does it move right along without your musicians just standing around? People have a verrrry short attention span nowadays, and there can be no delays trying to figure out which song to do next, checking to see if everyone's ready, or whatever.
Your mind should be totally on your audience, not yourself, and you should be expressing how you feel, communicating with them through your body, mind and soul.
And besides treating your fans to a great performance, you should treat your fans really nicely before and after the show. And, not only your fans, but also the Venues, Promoters and their staffs. If you treat them really well, wouldn't that make them want to treat you very well, also? And want to have you back again?!
The way you act at every event creates good or bad "PR". PR stands for "Public Relations", which is not the same as Promotion. Promotion is hitting someone over the head with flyers, ads and the like, and Public Relations is how you spread your name every day of your life by the simple, normal means of being yourself.
Attention Venues [and Promoters]: The Venues are just as responsible for a successful event as the Artists! Besides being known for the quality of the acts you book, you, the venues and promoters, too often depend on the Bands and their Management and/or Street Teams to handle all the promotion, etc. You should put just as much into pushing the Event and should be just as well prepared as you expect the Artists to be.
And how do you treat your Artists, let alone your customers and your own staff? Are your Bartenders and Waitresses friendly, sociable and "up"? Is your staff ready for, and looking forward to a fun night ahead - instead of just going through the motions? Do you have a Venue that your staff feels is worth talking about to their family and friends? There's that "word-of-mouth" again.
Note: Security/Bouncers should also have the same fun and friendly demeanor, with the only exception being if and when they may have to "switch hats" when needed to keep the atmosphere, safe. Ambience, "vibe", the "feel" of the club, call it what you wish, is reflected by all the people working there, and this will help determine if all your visitors feel comfortable or not. Just doing print or internet ads doesn't create a great Vibe - happy, sociable employees create a great vibe and make your Venue a fun place to be.
Also, most venues do little to spruce up the "room atmosphere", when a great décor, specials on drinks, special finger food, special whatever will also really help you bring more paying people in. It benefits you as well, having your place be the Venue to hang out over all the other places.
To sum up it all up, when all the Venues, Promoters, Artists, Managers and Street Teams treat Every show like an EVENT, you all will then have done your part in creating "A Music Scene." The "In Thing" to do which will help all the Artists be seen and become successful. Which will, at the same time, help the Venues be seen and become successful. Which will likewise make the fans come out of the closet and want to become part of this Scene - because they know they will be Entertained! Entertained with the help of the Universal Language...
"Our aim is to help guide you, protect you, and to answer any and all of your questions regarding the Creative, Business and Legal sides of the Music Business, in plain, easy-to-understand "People-Talk". No matter what style of Music, no matter what you do, no matter what stage of your career - we're here for you! Let us help you save wasted time and money..."
David J. Spangenberg
Music Business Career Guidance,
Entertainment Contract Specialist
E-mail David at: Pooch@professorpooch.com